Four Ways to Go the Distance

“I’m feeling better,” she said, and I had to agree. I’m feeling better, too.

We’re adapting, as much as we’d rather not, and I don’t know about you, but I’m noticing that my days have a rhythm now. The weekends are distinctly different from the weekdays, and when I read, I’m able to concentrate again.

I live in New York State, and our first days on PAUSE left me feeling simultaneously stunned, adrift, and eager to “fix” things. So, I’ve avoided social media for some time. I avoided this space, too. I wasn’t ready to endorse any perspective until I had quite a bit more myself.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this thing isn’t simply calling us to socially distance. It’s disrupting and even destroying some pieces of our lives and our learning. There is much trauma here.

Distance learning is one shift that seemed like it might be temporary, but we all know that this isn’t the case now. We’re all feeling pressured to get better at this– and fast. Me too.

But this is a marathon, not a sprint.


So these are the four ways I’m trying to go the distance: 

I’ve accepted that this is humbling, and that’s good.

When I began dipping a toe into distance learning years ago, it felt a bit invasive to me, and that’s because it was. It still is. I try to remember that when I meet students in their schools or in my writing studio sessions, I’ve invited them out of their homes and into spaces that I or others have created for them. Distance learning is different, though. It brings teachers like me into students’ homes. I need to move gently here. I need to be a gracious guest. What does that look like? How do I know I’m taking good care here? Revisiting these questions on the daily is important right now. The answers shift.

Crisis distance teaching is illuminating the inequities that have always existed inside of our systems–particularly for families who live on the margins, too. And of course it is. Did we expect anything different? But while many are scrambling to secure devices and wireless service and food and so many other important things for families in need, I’m wondering: Have we even asked any of the families we’ve served which instructional approaches are most sensitive to their needs? For instance, what are the unintended consequences of using video conferencing tools with students and families who prefer to maintain a bit more privacy, for any number of reasons? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but especially, right now.

The upside of this great shift isn’t lost on me either: When students truly welcome us into their homes, we not only learn so much more about who they really are, but we become a part of the fabric of their days and even…their family’s lives.

What an incredible privilege.

What a powerful learning opportunity, too. I’m hearing those who are encouraging us to take note of all we learn from this, in order to make what happens upon our return to face to face learning even better.

I’ve been most inspired by the administrators and teachers in my circle who are moving slowly, intentionally, and carefully here. They’re the ones practicing humility rather than racing to merely get it done or worse, distinguish themselves as the “best” at anything. They’re asking permission, paying attention, and learning as they go.

They’re also practicing gratitude, as hard as that might be, and that’s deepening their humility, too.

 

I’m re-framing what it means to be inspired.

I’m still inspired, and I still care as much about my work and learning as I did before the world changed, but there is little happiness in it right now. None of it leaves me feeling quite as light and energetic as it used to. It’s heavy. It’s urgent and scary. That’s because it really, REALLY matters.

This is inspiration that feels less joyful but perhaps, more meaningful.

Are you noticing this, too? This isn’t bad thing–it’s an uncomfortable one, though.

I think my shifting expectations here are protecting my mental health. I don’t expect to feel particularly satisfied or as playful as I usually am about my learning and work. I don’t expect others to be joyful or even positive, either.

I just want to be of good use. And that’s enough.

This is a very different bar than the one I usually maintain for myself, and I adjust it as I enter the different communities I serve, too. I work in very privileged areas, and I also work in marginalized communities. What it means to be of use is very different as I move in and out of these spaces–especially right now. This crisis has only widened the gap. And I need to be clear: One might assume that marginalized communities have mammoth needs and fewer strengths. My firsthand experience often exposes needs in privileged communities that would be better attended to if only the humans who lived there possessed the same strengths as those who live in marginalized communities do.

 

I’m distinguishing facilitation of learning from delivery of content.

Facilitating learning is far different from delivering content. It’s also much harder. And unless we’re forced to do hard things, we often find many reasons not to–myself included.

But here we are–forced to de-center ourselves–like it or not. And it’s uncomfortable and fraught with false starts and failure, but it’s also happening. We’re learning that we can’t simply can’t lift what we did from the front of the room and drop into a distance learning experience. This is different, and if we learn all we can from it, it might make us better face to face teachers, too.

Consider this. Again. Because you know…he’s been saying this forever.

Source: https://tinyurl.com/ya72fqem

 

So, what if this is all new, even if it shouldn’t be? Well, it’s been my longtime experience that what happens face to face may not transfer to distance learning environments well, but when we design well for distance learning, what we create might actually transfer back to our face to face environments beautifully and with far greater ease….as long as we’re willing to remain facilitators rather than directors of learning. That could make for a better reality as we transition back to the classroom (and into quarantine again and back into the classroom and into quarantine again).

Perhaps, like many are suggesting, this shift to distance learning will help us elevate our face to face practices. I have to admit, I’m a skeptic though, and my hope for any real change here comes with a bitter pill. It’s my perspective that many are grappling with life or death issues that leave them little cognitive or emotional bandwith to process any of this. Those who aren’t grappling with that reality will likely resist real, lasting change at all cost, too. It’s a heavy lift. Humans, by nature, are hardwired to avoid lifting heavy things. So, I have to think that if, by some miracle, the virus simply disappears and our schools throw open their doors, few who haven’t embraced progressive learning approaches  will truly evolve. If that happens, this entire thing will likely be treated as a temporary ordeal. It will be remembered as trauma, and we will return to business as usual. But if, as the science is strongly suggesting, this virus does not go gently into any good night, we will be forced to learn and grow and yeah, really evolve here. That’s a very hard bargain, and it’s depressing, too. I keep asking myself how I might approach this as a powerful, necessary transformation rather than a temporary PAUSE. I want to get better at this. So…

 

 I’m minding time and space differently.

Asynchronous learning matters. It’s unrealistic to expect all students and teachers to show up at the same time, in the same space, in the same way every day. Screencasting enables me to share slides and photos far better than web conferencing tools do, while allowing me to teach with them as well. Students can replay my lessons and open my documents inside of cleanly packaged containers this way, too. Here’s my space. This is better than bouncing from one to another or scattering lessons all over the web or sending them to individuals or groups through email.

I need to keep my lessons short and tightly aligned to my learning targets. Ideally, I’d like to speaking for just a few minutes and then, turning the learning and work and play over to kids. Realistically, I support systems whose teachers have not yet made the shift to inquiry or project based learning. This is triage, so I’m functioning that way. Right now, I’m shooting for 6-10 minute mini-lessons tops, although I’ve had to go longer here and there. I’m reviewing those lessons and asking myself what I could have done differently and better.

I’m also reminding viewers to pause, rewind, reach out with their questions, and open the documents I’ve linked to. I’ve had the greatest success with lessons and units that allow learners to self-navigate and move at their own pace. I’m also hearing–from many–that kids and teachers feel a bit exposed when they’re live inside of virtual communities. I’m trying to be sensitive to this.

And I know that I have so much more to learn, still.


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Speaking of minding time and space, I have a new job, all. I’ve accepted a position on the Instructional Design Team at Daemen College, and I am straight up giddy about this. I start tomorrow, and this changes everything. It has to.

For the time being, I’ll be using my blog to reflect and think aloud, much like I did above. I’m trying to become a better learner and facilitator of learning myself, and my blog has always been a vehicle for that.

I know that many of you are seeking tools and resources that might help you do the same, though. And I’m grateful to be able to consult with all of you here and eventually, in your schools when they reopen too.

I invite you to put yourself on my mailing list if you want access to the things I design.

 

When you do, you’ll receive a weekly round-up of the best things I’ve discovered online in any given week. I’ll also share the tools I’ve designed myself as well as a peek into the work that I’m doing with them inside of the organizations that I serve. And as always, I’ll invite you into the free courses I’m offering right now. There will be a weekly book giveaway, too.

In this week’s newsletter, I’m giving away a copy of this soon-to-be-released beauty and a subscription to this incredible course. I’m also opening this conversation: When we return to school, things won’t simply be different. They will be quite uncertain. Chances are good that many young writers (and teachers) may become exposed to the virus and need to quarantine again. And maybe…again. We need to plan in ways that allow us to continually pivot here, not simply transition. I’m sharing a tool I’ve designed that might serve planning work well, and I’m also inviting newsletter subscribers to a greater conversation on Zoom on Sunday, May 10th at 7pm EST. Everything is free.

Interested in any of it? Just subscribe. 

Have a good week, everyone. Be well, and I’ll see you next Sunday.


Credit where it’s due:

I’m grateful to Lisa Noble for sharing Tim King’s powerful post on Facebook recently. That’s where I was reminded of Gary Stager’s wisdom.

5 Comments

  1. sandy shacklady-white says:

    Excellently stated. Thank you for sharing. May peace be with you and all your followers!

  2. Lisa Noble says:

    I love that you put marathon and sprint in here, too! Thank you for capturing so very much of what we are feeling. The graciousness piece is so very important to me. Taking the time to figure out where our families are at – so very many things to figure out before we can even begin to teach, sort of.
    You have been a touchstone for me through this. Thank you so, so much for creating a community space with room.

    • Angela says:

      Right back at you, Lisa. I was also grateful to you for sharing Tim’s post. Diverse perspective taking. That. You grow me, friend.

  3. Katie McFarland says:

    My dear friend. You always say exactly what goes on in my head. I also do not recommend reading your blog while listening to Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe. Between your thougtful reflections and the finality of schools officially being closed for the year I was wiping the tears away all the way until the end. I had the opportunity to work with Gary many moons ago, (I’m guessing around the same time you did.) He is never one to shy away from controversy and always up for a great debate. I think one of my “super powers” is to see past the hard exterior and find the person inside. If you can do that then you see the incredible advocate he is for kids. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Sylvia Lebow who I also admire as a strong female presence in a tech world filled with mostly white males. That said, what I think I love most about Gary and his work is his incredible connection with Seymor Pappert and his passion for authentic learning. I read and read best practices, blah blah blah but truly when will we actually do this work? You help me see how this is possible. I have no idea how we will push ahead but what I do know is that we will come up with something together with the network of incredible people we have connected with. Ok, I finally stopped crying and now I’m going to start to plan for what is to come. Thanks for always inspiring, sharing, learning and growing with me.

    • Angela says:

      The only other thing holding me together today are my exchanges with Sarah. We have SO much to talk about, you and me. Let’s do that soon. I have some ideas. They might make us both smile. Love you, Katie! We will talk soon. I’m glad to be in this with you. Well, as in this as we all can be. xo

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